While most people curled up in sleeping bags on the floor of the church, a few of us started talking with Dan, the guy who lives in the basement of the Unitarian Church in Missoula. Once he mentioned that town was only 10 minutes away, we filled up our waterbottles with a little bit of wine, and ventured off into the great unknown yet famous hippie town of Montana.
Dan was quite the unassuming, long-haired guide. He does ad placement for the Missoulan, one of two local Missoula papers, and lives with his boss. There are only seven people that run a paper with 27,000 distributions every day, and most of their content comes from other papers. They’re owned by a corporation that’s mostly interested in profit –and those comes from the ads he places, like Thursday’s Wal-Mart half-pager.
I only know two things about Montana, and they all come from my fathers stories of the sixties. The first is that Missoula has weird weather –being at the center of a pre-historic crater, something happens that traps the clouds above the city in its own convection cycle. According to Dan, this means the snow is toxic. The second thing is that somewhere in Missoula is a woman named Cassie, the girlfriend my father left to go onwards to Seattle and find his wife-to-be, my mother. Cassie married the house painter my dad brought home to dinner a few nights before he left. Small, strange town, Missoula is.
Now I know more things: Like Missoula was named after a saloon and titty bar named “Miss Ou—La-La.” (according to my mother, this is not true –it’s a native word for “ambush.” I’m going with the titty bar…) Most of the buildings in the town are original, and none of them are over a few stories tall, because Montana is the Big Sky State…and we wouldn’t want to interfere with the vista. The city paid a famous sculptor 2 million dollars to build an art installation encapsulating Missoula, and what he finally unveiled at the end of the main drag in town were four gigantic red X’s. The town was outraged, but the artist took the money and run. There’s a raging river that roars through the best place in town is the Butterfly Herb Cafe. Missoulans idea of a good time is floating down the river that runs through the center of town in innertubes and a rack of beer, but people drown every year because they tube too early and get sucked into the faster running waters beneath the surface. Finally, there’s a great all night diner called Finnigans where you can get free refills on your hot chocolate.
Missoula by night was not all that bad. Rachael and I sat in the booth nodding off into our pancakes feeling like we were rocking on water, the aftermath of 10+ hours on a bus. We talked about Zapatistas, how pachyderms are elephants, how raccoons clean their food, and the University of Montana in general. We were back by 5 am, and up by 9 the next morning.